A couple of years ago for my then newspaper, the London Evening Standard, I wrote about the creeping growth of local authority propaganda newspapers – in-your-face tabloids produced as often as weekly by local councils, delivered free to every household and directly aimed at destroying the independent local press.
The council Pravdas offer advertisers taxpayer-subsidised rates which the commercial press cannot match. They offer readers nearly everything that they might previously have bought a commercial newspaper for (news, features, TV listings, property pages, even crumpet). Everything, that is, except for any news whatever that reflects badly on the council, and any mention whatever of the ruling party’s political opponents.
The most pernicious Pravda of all was Tory-controlled Hammersmith and Fulham’s H&F News, which I described as “a brilliant facsimile of a good, meaty local newspaper, complete with a 12-page property pullout, a sudoku and crossword, a What’s On supplement, lots of ads from real local businesses and even a five-page gardening section.
“The council PR stories (“Residents dish out the love … Poll reveals that three years of tax cuts give joy”) are interspersed with page after page of other news, much of it seemingly straight, and you struggle to remember this is an official publication. But it is.”
Now, from spring next year, H&F News is to close: a fantastic decision. This clearly anticipates the Government crackdown, announced earlier this year, on such rags.
Though H&F News was Tory, the vast majority of the council Pravdas in London – including the only two weekly ones, the execrable East End Life (Tower Hamlets) and Greenwich’s laughable Greenwich Time – are run by Labour-controlled boroughs. Time for Labour, too, to get the message: in an era of cuts, spending the vast sums of money on these things is no longer defensible.